ANZAC Day Speech by His Excellency Dr. Brett Mason, Australia’s Ambassador to the Netherlands on 25 April, 2018
Australians and New Zealanders are often teased that we do not take our history or ourselves too seriously. This might be true. But ladies and gentleman, we believe ANZAC Day is important. It is, as the playwrights say, “The One Day of the Year.” For our sense of national identity, our sense of what it means to be an Australian or New Zealander, was first tested on the slopes of the Gallipoli peninsular in Turkey 103 years ago.
Our nations were young then, very young. We sought to test ourselves against the nations of the Old World and we were not found wanting. It was the birth of the spirit of Australia and New Zealand – of Aussie courage and Kiwi valour.
And we remember everyone who served on the Gallipoli Peninsula: Australians, New Zealanders, the British, Irish, French, Indians and Canadians – and the Turks too. And we remember Malta, who treated and cared for the Anzacs and was to them “The Nurse of the Mediterranean.”
To us, they are Anzacs – legends; but in 1915 they were just like we are today – just like us – fathers, sons, parents, children, cousins and mates.
We commemorate today not a few great names, but the many – the Aussie and the Kiwi digger. We remember all our soldiers who have fought in war, in our name, since the first ANZACs went ashore at dawn 25 April 1915.
Today, let me tell you about just one.
A young Australian who lies in the heart of the Netherlands…….
He was a hero. They all were in a way. But he would not have thought so.
Jack Dawson Green, known to his parents as Johnnie, was born in Melbourne in December 1923.
There are photographs of Jack as a baby, playing cricket in the backyard and Australian Rules football, getting ready for hockey and going to swim. He was a natural sportsman.
And he was adventurous. He ran away from home at 15. After a long search his parents found him at an army camp. He could only be enticed home when his parents promised him that he could join the armed forces as soon as he was 18.
And he did.
He joined the Royal Australian Air Force in 1942 and in his final training in the town of Jerilderie in NSW famously flew the length of the main street in a Tiger Moth airplane at just 15 metres from the ground. An 18 year old Jack thought it was pretty funny – but the Jerilderie Police did not find it so amusing.
In 1944 he was sent to Britain as a fighter pilot. His unit flew many sorties against targets in the Netherlands including the V-1 flying bombs and V-2 rockets.
By March of 1945 the Germans seem beaten. Across Europe they are in retreat. On 17 March, Jack’s squadron again flies operations over the western Netherlands and are heading back to Belgium when Jack spies a German column in hasty retreat trying to cross the Barendrecht Bridge.
He breaks from the pack in his Spitfire and attacks the enemy. But Jack has no idea that on both sides of the bridge gun emplacements are waiting for him. He flies straight into the German barrage crashing into farm land. Warrant Officer Jack Dawson Green is dead. He is 21 years old.
When I look at old photos of Jack with his mates, with other pilots, with his Spitfire aircraft and in his flying gear, I do not see a serviceman, I do not see a pilot, and I do not see a hero. I see the faded portraits of a young Australian – a long way from the swimming pools, the football fields and cricket grounds of his home.
He was a son and a brother and a mate. He was a typical young Australian bloke. That is who we commemorate when we remember Jack and all like him. That is who we celebrate. That is who we remember. That is why we are here. To commemorate people just like us – ordinary men doing extraordinary things in the hell that is war.
And Jack? Well, today Jack lies peacefully in a grave beautifully tended by the students of the Rehoboth School in Barendrecht. Dutch children now look after him. He is not alone. He is not forgotten. And I reckon Jack would like that. After all, he died fighting for their future.
As they say in beautiful Barendrecht “He is our Jack Dawson Green. We remember him.”
And so should we remember all of those who, like Jack, died in our name and for our cause.
Lest we forget.